KODAK, Tennessee (WHNT) — The Rocket City Trash Pandas took the lead on the game’s second pitch and led from start to finish, holding on at the end for a 9-5 victory over the Tennessee Smokies in Game 1 of the Southern League North Division Series.
With the win, the Trash Pandas will have an opportunity to close out the best-of-three series on Thursday night in Game 2 at Toyota Field, with Chase Silseth scheduled to get the start.
The Trash Pandas got off to a dream start. On the first pitch of the game by Smokies starter Riley Thompson (L, 0-1), Zach Neto’s hard ground ball went past diving Tennessee third baseman Jake Slaughter and into the left field corner for a leadoff double. Preston Palmeiro teed off on Thompson’s next pitch for a towering two-run homer to right, giving the Trash Pandas a 2-0 lead two pitches into the game.
Rocket City southpaw Ky Bush got the nod on the mound and got off to a rocky start, walking leadoff hitter Yonathan Perlaza. The next hitter, Slaughter, worked the count to 3-1 before Bush rebounded to strike him out. The Rocket City southpaw retired the next two men to end the inning and maintain the lead.
Bush recorded his first one, two, three inning in the third before working into trouble in the fourth. Bryce Ball led off with a single and Chase Strumpf doubled off the wall to put runners at second and third with one out. Again, Bush worked through the jam, this time by striking out the next two hitters on only six pitches to keep Tennessee off the board.
Bush ended his night on the mound with a pair of strikeouts in the fifth. Over five scoreless innings, Bush (W, 1-0) allowed four hits, walked one, and struck out seven to keep the Trash Pandas in front and earn the win in his first professional playoff game.
In the sixth, Knoxville native Ben Joyce entered for Rocket City and issued back-to-back walks with one out. Cole Roederer got the Smokies back in the game with a three-run homer to right, the first home run given up by Joyce in his professional career. Joyce got an inning ending double play from Harrison Wenson, avoiding further damage.
The Trash Pandas got some key insurance in the ninth, as Jeremiah Jackson connected on a two-run triple, his first of the season, with two outs to score Aguilar and pinch-runner Aaron Whitefield, restoring the five-run lead at 9-4. In the bottom half, closer Eric Torres allowed a leadoff home run to Perlaza, then walked Slaughter before getting the first two outs. Strumpf kept the Smokies alive with a single. Torres finished the victory by getting Roederer to ground out, giving the Trash Panada the series edge.
At the plate, six Trash Pandas recorded a multi-hit game, with Neto’s pair of doubles leading the way from the top of the lineup. Adams recorded two extra-base hits with a home run and a double, while Palmeiro’s home run on the second pitch of the night gave Rocket City a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
The Trash Pandas return home for Game 2 of the North Division Series against the Smokies on Thursday night. First pitch at Toyota Field is set for 6:35 p.m.